Recognition, Assessment & Realising the potential of open badges

I’m so happy that eL3.0 has finally moved in to an area where I feel like I know what I’m doing. This week on eLearning 3.0 we moved on to assessment and recognition of learning. The conversation between Stephen and Viplav Baxi (Director – Product and Digital Transformation at Oxford University Press in New Delhi, India) highlighted some issues I’d like to address in this post:

  1. Using simulations for assessment of skill/competency based learning
  2. Using Open Badges for recognition of learning.
  3. Can interactive eBooks be badged and is it possible to link them to your LMS?

Using simulations for assessment of skill/competency based learning

Assessing knowledge acquisition online, if not ‘easy’, is at least something more L&D professionals are familiar with, although there is an over reliance on using quizzes to assess learning (rather than reinforce learning) which is, in my view an entirely flawed approach. As Stephen and Viplav discussed, assessing skills based/competence based learning online is an entirely different thing and needs a different approach. The suggestion of using simulations and serious games to deliver and assess skills/competence development is clearly a more appropriate route to explore, and there is a wealth of research available in this area. However, I found myself disagreeing with Stephen’s view that you need to use expensive technology and high level skills  to really exploit these approaches. This feels like it assumes that, in order to be successful, the game/simulation needs to ape the sophisticated 3D worlds which are common in the leisure industry. Whilst I’m sure this helps but, in my experience of designing four online simulations using only HTML, video and audio material, it isn’t really necessary. In the simulations we created, it was the authenticity of the situations and learner tasks (ie how close they felt to the reality of the job) which created the immersion. As Jan Herrington points out,

“the use of authentic tasks encourages and supports immersion in self-directed and independent learning” (Herrington J, Authentic E-Learning in higher education: Design principles for authentic learning environments and tasks (2006)

This is equally true of applying game mechanics to learning situations – we shouldn’t feel we have to create a ‘game’ with leaderboards and prizes etc., but rather we should look at the approaches game designers use and apply them to our learning designs. I’d suggest we could learn a thing or two from game designers around,

  1. Emotional investment
  2. Incentivising learning
  3. Using failure as a learning tool
  4. Immediacy of application
  5. Feedback

I won’t go in to each of these here – that’s a whole other post …

Looping back to making the learning experience related to real-world situations, I believe L&D professionals should make much greater use of authentic learning approaches. In the world of work related learning (and in formal education settings), there is ample evidence available that authentic learning approaches drive up engagement and, if you couple that which what you can learn from the game designers, You can create some very powerful learning experiences … and, increase learning transfer:

Authentic learning exercises expose the messiness of real-life decision making, where there may not be a right or a wrong answer per se, … Such a nuanced understanding involves considerable reflective judgment, a valuable lifelong skill that goes well beyond the memorization of content. (Lombardi, Marilyn M., 2007, Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview, Educause Learning Initiative, available from February 2010

Open Badges and recognition of learning

Before going any further, let’s be clear what we’re talking about. In my day job, we have been working with Open Badges for four years and have invested heavily in developing a badge issuing platform and implementing a strategy for designing, creating and assessing badges for a workforce and potential user base of approximately 200,000 staff. This video was created to describe Open Badges to people new to the concept:

In our experience, done right, Open Badges can be highly effective in capturing learning and linking new learning to changes in work practices. The key to this is the the criteria you set and the expectations and guidance you give regarding the evidence you will require of the learner before awarding the badge.

In our work we are keen to maximise learning transfer. Simply ‘knowing’ stuff (in case you need it) isn’t enough – we want learners’ practice skills to improve/change/develop, so we draw on the research focused on situated learning: i.e.

situated learning and situated cognition … describes learning that takes place within a culture of practice where the knowledge is deployed in the same context as the learning (Smith Peter J, 2003 Workplace Learning and Flexible Delivery, Review of Educational Research Spring 2003, Vol. 73, No. 1, pp. 53–88)

Situated learning requires authentic contexts, activities, and assessment (Dede Chris Planning for Neomillennial Learning Styles: Implications for Investments in Technology and Faculty, Eduause)

This has led us to build learner activities into our resources which require the learners to apply what they’ve learned in their working environment as soo as possible and to write a reflective account of this action in order to claim the badge. Given the very wide range of prior educational experience and capabilities, this means we often write badge criteria which ‘scaffold’ the reflective writing process – with a significant degree of success!

In our experience, our approach to Open Badges has had significant benefits for learners, e.g. Open Badges recognise and reward learning that is otherwise hidden and our system of learner owned badge accounts puts the learners in control of their own learning and helps build a sense of personal ownership of their own CPD.

For Learning & Development staff Open Badges,

  • can motivate people to learn and encourage a culture of learning.
  • will give you a wealth of qualitative evidence of learning.
  • learner evidence will give clear, demonstrable and replicable evidence of impact of learning on practice.
  • deployment, done right, will develop staff abilities in reflective learning.
  • will start staff on the road to becoming self-managing, self-motivating learners.

Of course there are other key factors in making your badge system a success. For example – making the system easy to use (think about the end user first, not last!) and using short video walk throughs to support learners and so on.

Learning occurs as a result of motivation, opportunities, an active process, interaction with others, and the ability to transfer learning to a real-world situation … The ability to transfer learning to a real-world situation enhances the application of knowledge and leads to enduring understanding. (Oblinger, D. & Hawkins B.L., 2006 The Myth about No Significant Difference EDUCAUSE)

eBooks, badges and your LMS

The final issue from the conversation between Stephen and Viplav Baxi I wanted to reference was, the discussion about whether or not interactive eBooks can be linked in to (a) Open Badges and, (b) your LMS. From the discussion, there seemed to be a view that the answer to each was up for debate.

However, from our experience, the answer is pretty straightforward. Interactive eBooks can (and in our work, do) link to/accommodate Open Badges – see the example eBook referred to below. It’s simply a matter of planning your learner activities appropriately, as described above, and linking out to the location of the badge criteria and application mechanism on your badge platform. As you know from previous posts, I’m not a fan of getting under the hood and tinkering around and in this case you don’t have to – if designed well L&D staff with limited technical skill (like me) can designing deploy highly effective badges and link to these from their eBook(s).

As for the second issue (linking eBooks to the LMS) again, this doesn’t have to be complicated. Using xAPI and the Sidgil eBook editor it’s a fairly straightforward task to add statements which will connect learner activity in your eBook to an LMS, providing it is based on Learning Record Store (LRS) technology. There are a growing number of learning record store based LMSs becoming available and HT2 labs have developed an excellent LRS including an open source version – “Learning Locker‘. I’d encourage you to take a look.

This week’s task – build a badge

The task for this week was to create an Open Badge. As I’ve said above, as part of my job, I have managed the building and development of a badge issuing platform and the development of learning resources, all of which are badged. So, rather than one badge, I’d invite you to have a look at our badge platform – https://www.badges.sssc.uk.com

And, as one final example of how all of this can come together, I’d encourage you to have a look at one of our interactive eBooks – “Making the most of mobile learning“: each chapter covers a different aspect of using mobile technology for learning and links to an Open Badge which can be claimed from our platform once you have submitted the evidence required.

This is not technically difficult to do, you just need to make the right design decisions and, in our case, create activities for learners which encourage them to apply what they have learned to real-world tasks.

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